On memory and understanding

There is a difference between formulating a thought in your mind and capturing it. I suppose it’s the same thing as memory, though I’m thinking of it more in terms of why it is we stop to take note of certain ideas over others–in the sense of taking action to capture them, whether in writing or some other way.


Interestingly, I left this document open in my text editor since last night, and was moved today to write down a thought about what I was doing. Is it fortuitous that this very document is open, ready to be edited, to be added to?


I’m reading Computer Networks by Peterson and Davie, and took time to really think through the paragraph on the basic requirements of establishing a connection between a web browser and a page on the web via a URL: up to six messages are used to translate the domain name into its Internet Protocol address; three messages establish a Transmission Control Protocol connection between them: four messages for the get and send with receipts on both ends; four more messages to tear down the TCP connection.

The fact that that is almost gibberish is precisely the point. Much more so that it is something we simply take for granted every time we click on a link. However, on a more interesting level, I wrote that paragraph from memory. I checked it against the text, and verified the details were correct. I remember similarly taking my time with it the first time I started this chapter and was struck by my sense of looking forward to it. In effect, I had remembered it was important to me, even though I had forgotten many of the details. I wonder to what degree this is the essence of memory (in sharp contrast to how we fancy it)–i.e., memory is the feeling that this, here is important, and the degree to which I can reproduce the specifics less so.

Which is another way of saying Joan Didion was right.


I just realized something about the labor of writing: it helps us to discover. Upon rereading this I feel like I finally understand what TCP/IP Internet means. I have no idea to what degree each step along the way played, only that in reading this, now I understand something I had only partially understood before. Writing is a critical way of capturing.

And upon re-rereading this I may be finally understanding what Didion meant.

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